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The View From Asia

The TPP and Asia

Writers from Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan weigh in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement signed this week. Below are excerpts of three articles that ran in Asia News Network newspapers.

Lessons from the debate

Wan Saiful Wan Jan

The Star, Malaysia

I am pleased that our Parliament has voted for Malaysia to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Over three days, both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara debated the issue and the government won the vote in both chambers.

However, I am very disappointed with the way the vote was won. Members of both chambers voted according to their party stance. Both Barisan Nasional and the opposition voted according to party lines.

If the parties had decided to use the parliamentary whip, then why hold the special session at all? It was a waste of time and money because, ultimately, no one used any brain power in making their decisions.

It was a shame that none of them could speak their true mind in Parliament.

I would have preferred that the elected representatives follow their conscience.

Then the special session would have meant something.


Protesters at a rally in Kuala Lumpur against the Trans-Pacific Partnership last month, days before Parliament voted on Jan 27 to approve Malaysia's participation in the multilateral free trade agreement.  PHOTO: REUTERS

Nevertheless, now that the vote is over, let us take stock of what happened.

If we look at the past three years leading up to the vote, we must say kudos to the anti-liberalisation activists spearheading the campaign against the TPP. They were persistent, consistent and determined. The anti-liberalisation movement operates globally and has never failed to mobilise demonstrations when major trade deals are being decided.

The movement has now become more organised in Malaysia.

Their strategy is almost always the same. Focus on spreading doubts and fear. Repeat the same mantra over and over again. Use selective data and statistics, and discredit others' studies using any means necessary.

As a campaign strategy, it was effective.

Many MPs I spoke to expressed fear of voting for the TPP because they felt that they would be voting against "the people".

The anti-liberalisation activists campaigned loud and long enough to create the impression that they represent public opinion.

The reality, in fact, is actually the opposite.

A Pew Research Centre Spring 2015 Global Attitude Survey asked Malaysians: "Would the TPP be a good thing for our country or a bad thing?"

Only 18 per cent said that it would be a bad thing.

The main lesson I learnt from the whole saga is that you cannot allow others to determine how you dance. If you try to do that, you might win some battles but you will not be able to cope in the overall war.

In the case of the TPP, yes, Parliament may have passed the motion for us to sign it. But that is just one tiny battle.

I am pretty certain that if we check the general temperature in the country now, we will find that the anti-liberalisation sentiment has been strengthened.

The TPP experience has emboldened the anti-liberalisation groups and they will become more effective in the future.

But please don't get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a negative development.

On the contrary, I feel it is healthy that the public policy arena is becoming more hotly contested.

Amari departure raises TPP concern

Editorial

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The resignation of Mr Akira Amari (who was Japan's economy minister till the last week of January), who was spearheading growth-focused economic policies as a driving force of Abenomics, has raised concern over a possible adverse impact on policies related to the TPP free trade pact, for which he served as Japan's chief negotiator.

Also, some hold the view that former Liberal Democratic Party secretary-general Nobuteru Ishihara, who was appointed as economic revitalisation minister to succeed Mr Amari, will likely place importance on fiscal reconstruction as he is a senior member of the LDP's Research Commission on the Tax System.

The economic policies of the Abe Cabinet have been promoted by Mr Amari, who put priority on growth, and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who emphasised fiscal reconstruction.

Mr Amari's resignation could lead to disruption of the delicate balance. The basic policy for economic and fiscal management and reform for this year will serve as a de facto campaign pledge for this summer's House of Councillors election. Mr Ishihara likely will have to deal with difficult manoeuvring to understand Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's intentions and cooperate with Mr Aso at the same time.

Domestic procedures to ratify the TPP will start in the Diet in April.

While Mr Ishihara will be expected to answer questions from opposition parties, one government official said: "It is not easy to understand the contents of the TPP agreement over a short period of time, so I'm concerned about possible stagnation of the Diet deliberations."

Mr Amari served as economy, trade and industry minister and in other posts, and established strong connections to industrial circles. An official at a major automaker expressed a concern that exists in the business community, saying: "If Amari's resignation leads to economic turbulence, it could cause a downturn in consumption."

Mr Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the government should make efforts to minimise the impact of Mr Amari's resignation.

"His (Amari's) resignation is a heavy blow, but it is impossible that the Japanese economy will take a downturn," he told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday night.

Vietnam a 'threat' to Indonesia

Khoirul Amin

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Indonesia needs to catch up with neighbour Vietnam in obtaining greater global market access and accelerating trade negotiations with trading partners, Trade Minister Thomas Lembong has said.

He said Vietnam had become a real "threat" to Indonesia as the mainland South-east Asian nation had concluded trade arrangements with the European Union and was also a signatory to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"Given this circumstance, we're already losing in terms of tariffs to Europe by between 10 per cent and 17 per cent," he said.

Vietnam concluded a free trade agreement with the EU in early December last year, and both parties are now ratifying the deal. 

Vietnam is also set to gain greater and easier market access to the other 11 TPP nations, namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and the US. 

For Indonesia, Vietnam has long been one of its head-to-head competitors in exporting textiles and garments, particularly to major markets like the US. Once the TPP is implemented, it is believed that Vietnam will grab an even larger share of the US market. 

Vietnam's share of the US apparel import market could go from 10 per cent to 35 per cent.

The reductions in duties that the TPP may cause could trigger a significant shift in sourcing to Vietnam from other countries, according to the consulting firm O'Rourke Group Partners. 

Mr Thomas said that Indonesia would strive to catch up so that it would not be left behind.


•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. See www.asianews.network for more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'The TPP and Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe